How Eating Disorders are Used as Coping Mechanisms to Gain Control

This post was written by Rhonda Wasserman

Original content by Ashley Berges

 An eating disorder is a serious illness that involves a confusing relationship with food, eating, body image, and exercise. They impact approximately 30 million people in this country. 

Eating disorders are very common in people with signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder, BPD. 

Eating disorders are behaviors that someone with BPD can use to injure themselves. They are self-harming tendencies, using food. Eating disorders are used as coping mechanisms. However, they are unhealthy coping mechanisms and coping skills. 

One reason an eating disorder can go hand in hand with borderline personality disorder is that an eating disorder can distract someone from the chaos in their own life. An eating disorder will pull focus and attention inward. As a result, it allows someone to manipulate their body and weight, something they feel is controllable. This then goes back to the concept of the need to find some type of control in a person’s life that feels out of control. 

Several different kinds of eating disorders are used to feel some control in what feels like an out-of-control life.

Bulimia– After eating, a person with bulimia will purge. Purging one’s feelings is the idea behind this. Throwing up food helps one feel clean and overcome unpleasant emotions by letting them go.

Bing-Eating– can be compared to stuffing one’s emotions. eating excessively to satisfy a void.

Anorexia– Anorexia is the idea of starving yourself while restricting your intake of food. A person numbs their emotions by doing this.

Otherwise, Specified Feeding/Eating Disorders (OSFED)-This applies to various types of eating disorders or a combination of eating disorders. 

Eating disorders are methods of control. The person that is dealing with the eating disorder can control if they eat, and if they do not eat. They can control if they throw up or if they do not throw up. How much someone eats is also controllable, whether they overeat or undereat. These are skills used to cope with life, although unhealthy coping skills are still used. 

We need to take a look at the other side, the emotional hunger vs the physical hunger. Someone can be emotionally hungry. They are trying to feed or stuff down their feelings. They may not be hungry enough to eat all the food, to binge eat, but they continue to eat to fill the emotional hunger that they have. On the other hand, starvation is when they know they need to eat but they starve themselves. There must be a point that someone with an eating disorder begins to eat when they are physically hungry instead of emotionally hungry. 

One interesting thing that goes hand in hand with BPD and an Ed is that the person that is dealing with this must learn how to self-soothe during times of emotional dysregulation. Often, when in a situation of emotional dysregulation, people use their eating disorder. The eating disorder is the go-to response when it comes to emotional dysregulation.

Eating disorders can be just as reckless as alcohol and drug abuse. To the person with the eating disorder, it does not seem reckless, they believe they have control over it.

There is a need to learn how to self-soothe in times of emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation is severe depression, extreme anxiety, shame, anger, self-harm, excessive substance abuse, risky behavior, and high-conflict relationships. When we think about BPD and eating behaviors we can understand why it would be used to self-soothe. Even though it is harmful to the body, it is a way of control. 

You do not have to have an eating disorder and have BPD, or have BPD and have an eating disorder. They do not have to go hand in hand. However, when they do go together, we can understand why. This is the go-to response for someone who believes they can control it by using this type of behavior. 

Eating disorders are not a long-term solution because of the damage they cause to a person’s body and health. 

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